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October 2, 2009

Paying for Social Media?

Sheamus has an interesting post and poll over on Twittercism today, asking a very good question.

Would you pay $1/month for Twitter?

The intro to the question:
"If tomorrow you logged on to Twitter and were suddenly informed that it was now a premium service that was charging $1/month (ongoing) or $10/year to access the service, how would you react? Let’s say you had 30 days to make-up your mind and/or backup your stuff. After that, your account was unavailable – unless you paid."
He continues on to illustrate why he would gladly to it.  But how many people would?  And what about other social media sites?  What if they all cost something (even if it was just a nominal fee, like $1/month)?  How would that affect your online usage?

I left a comment over on Sheamus' post, but I wanted to elaborate on that a little bit here.  Yes, I would pay $1/month for Twitter, as long as it was being shown that the money was being put to making Twitter a better application.  Honestly, I have no idea how Twitter is still in existence right now, since it doesn't run any advertising and people don't pay for it.  I would gladly pay that $1/month if it meant that Twitter wasn't in danger of collapsing under its own success and lack of financial model.

But what about other sites?  Facebook?  Would I pay $1/month for Facebook?  Again, I probably would in this case, though part of that would depend on how many of my friends left the site because they didn't want to pay.  If I'm all alone over there, why would I want to stay?

However, part of the elaborate tapestry of social media users is a result of people having the ability to be everywhere to market their brand, or just connect to other users.  There are so many social sites now, apart from the obvious ones.  There's LinkedIn, Plaxo, Digg (I have an account there, I believe, though I've never really used it), and many others.  They're all free, and if you want to make a name for yourself, you at least have some presence there.  But what if they all charged?  That tapestry would almost immediately disappear as people picked and chose which sites they would want to use and the others would fall by the wayside.  Person A would be connected to Person B on Facebook, but Person C would want to hook up with Person A on LinkedIn.  Would Person A spring for a membership to LinkedIn too?  Would Person A decide not to connect with Person C at all?  Or would Person A convince Person C to come to Facebook instead?

Some social media sites would be ghetto-ized because of this, I think.  Of course, this may cause them to try and make improvements to their service to keep their current customers and attract more, so that could be a good thing. However, I think it would shatter the mosaic of social media users that are currently out there, with people instead entering into their own niche.  Business users might decide it's worth the money to have a presence on all sites anyway, what with their customer-base also being scattered among the various sites because they don't want to pay to be everywhere.

But the casual user?  Casual use would go down to a great extent, I think.  Part of that, as Sheamus notes in linking to Chris Brogan’s blog post "The Audacity of Free" is because once people start using something for free, they don't want to start paying for it later.  While that's certainly true, I think another point to be made is this:  If these social sites had not begun by not costing anything, there would not have been the social media boom that we have today.  People don't want to pay for something that they're not sure they'll ever use.  And social media was such a new thing, with the casual user having no idea of how something was going to be used and used effectively, that I think many casual users would not even have bothered.

Look at Twitter.  Even with it being free, many people sign up to give it a try and then let their account lie fallow because they decide it's not for them.  Others try it because it's free and realize that it's a lot of fun and also very useful.  But they might never have discovered that if it wasn't free.  So it's kind of a Catch-22, because it is very hard for some people to willingly pay for something that has always been free, yet they probably wouldn't have tried it out at all if it hadn't been.

Both Chris and Sheamus are definitely right that we put more value into something we pay for, and Sheamus is right that 99% of the spammers would go away immediately if it wasn't free.

I wish I had an answer on which way would be the best way to go.  I know my personal preferences, and how I would disappear from many sites if they started charging.  But I have no idea whether that would be the death knell for many sites, or whether it would improve the sites that do provide great service.  My main concern is that feeling of togetherness and the inter-relationships that the rise of social media has created around the world.  I would hate for that to go away.  And it just might, if we barrier ourselves behind the walls of the sites we're willing to pay for, cut off from those who decide to go somewhere else.


  1. I'd pay for twitter. It would have to be affordable to me (I could shell out 10$ for a year) but I'd pay for it. I use it enough that it's worth it.

    Then again I'm use to shelling out 15$ a month for a video game so 1$ a month is nothing.

    I would not pay for facebook. I am rarely on it. I don't post anything there that isn't posted on my twitter. I don't think I'd miss it.

    While this wasn't mentioned by you, I'm also looking at my blog. Would I pay to be able to continue blogging through blogger. Yes I would. I don't know how much. I don't think I could justify more than about 15$ a month, but I'd pay it.

    Just shhhh, don't tell blogger that. ;)

  2. You make a good point about the blog, and one that I left out of the post, more because I felt like it was going on too long than anything else.

    There are very good blog platforms where you do pay, but the free ones make it possible for anybody to do it, no matter what their motivation is.

    Honestly, am I motivated enough for this blog to pay if Blogger started doing that? I can't really say that right now. Considering my traffic, it almost feels like a personal hobby than anything else, so it's a matter of "how much would you pay for a hobby?" Some people have higher limits than others.

    I probably should have continued on about the blog, and damn how long it is! :) But thanks for pointing it out for me.


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